Stewardship Bulletin Reflection: June 14, 2015

June 14, 2015 — Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ez 17: 22-24; Ps 92: 2-3, 13-16; 2 Cor 5: 6-10; Mk 4: 26-34

St-Paul-Icon-1“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” Those words of great insight are in today’s second reading from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Hymns have been written with that theme at the focal point. It is often quoted and used as a reference point for how we view our faith and the many mysteries of the Church.

We could also parallel Paul’s statement by saying “We walk by hope, and not by sight.” Through Christ’s Crucifixion we believe, we know, that Jesus offered us the possibility and the hope of life everlasting. We live in a world that puts great credibility to what the eye can see. That is why the visual and social media seem to have such a huge impact on people’s lives.

However, as Christians, we also know that the conclusions of the heart are as valid as those of the mind. Yet, this is one of the most difficult aspects of our relationship to God and to one another. Faith implies trust. Without that sense of trust, that feeling of hope, that awareness that there is more to truth than what seems obvious, we cannot pursue discipleship and stewardship the way Jesus has invited us to live. Our faith — our commitment to living as Christians — must pervade everything in our lives, everything we do every day.

Stewardship Reflection on Lectionary Readings: June 7, 2015

June 7, 2015 – The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)
Ex 24:3-8; Ps 116: 12-13, 15-18; Heb 9: 11-15; Mk 14: 12-16, 22-26

corpus05Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ; more commonly called Corpus Christi in the Church. The full Latin name of this feast is Corpus et Sanguis Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ. We have celebrated the feast for almost 800 years. The Feast of the Blessed Sacrament was originally established in 1246 by Bishop Robert deThorte of Liege, Belgium, at the suggestion of St. Juliana of Mont Carvillon. Pope Urban extended it to the Universal Church in 1264. One of the special aspects of it is that St. Thomas Aquinas composed the office.

At the center of all our Masses is the Eucharist. Naturally the readings on this Sunday focus on the importance of and the centrality of the Eucharist in the Church. The first reading from the Book of Exodus speaks of the people’s Covenant with God. As Moses is the defining force behind this covenant, it is most often called the Mosaic Covenant. However, having a covenant with the Lord is not quite enough. Although the people agreed to it, it required more from them than simple agreement. Each of us has a Covenant with the Lord also. However, living out that covenant can be a challenge for us. We often speak of stewardship, and indeed that commitment to stewardship is a real indication of our covenant with God. Nevertheless, we must live it out through actions for it to be fully effective.

St. Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews, our second reading, refers to a new covenant. “For this reason he (Jesus Christ) is the mediator of a new covenant: since a death has taken place for deliverance from transgressions under the first covenant, those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.” This new covenant comes to us through Christ’s sacrifice for us. Paul refers to Jesus’ sacrifice as being “unblemished” or perfect. It is this perfect sacrifice which brings us salvation and which we commemorate through the Eucharist at every Mass. It is perfect in the sense that it was voluntary, rational, and completely motivated by love. As we approach the Eucharist, we need to think of all of this, and in humility we receive the real body and blood of Christ. Then we are expected to take that gift and live it out among those in our families, our communities, and our workplaces with the same love that motivated it.

Our Gospel reading from Mark recounts the Last Supper, which was also their Passover meal. At the Passover meal it was traditional for the head of the family (in this case Jesus) to lift the bread and to say something to the effect “This is the bread of affliction which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Let everyone who hungers come and eat; let everyone who is needy come and eat the Passover meal.” Jesus, in the act of establishing the Eucharist, takes that tradition and passes it entirely through Himself, the Lamb of God. He gives everything a new meaning, the meaning that we recognize on this Feast of Corpus Christi. Jesus says “Take it; this is my body.” The Eucharist is not forced upon us; it is something we freely “take” but it is also something that we must receive and we must act upon our reception of it. Jesus calls us to eat of His Body and Blood as a sign of our new Covenant with God. As Catholics we need to never forget that according to our Catechism “the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life.” (#1324)

Stewardship Bulletin Reflection: June 7, 2015

June 7, 2015 – The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)
Ex 24:3-8; Ps 116: 12-13, 15-18; Heb 9: 11-15; Mk 14: 12-16, 22-26

Corpus-Christi-iconWe celebrate today the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ — Corpus Christi. As Catholics we have celebrated this since the 13th Century. On Holy Thursday we celebrate the Last Supper, but the Church, feeling that the proximity of Easter might lessen that, instituted this Solemnity to occur right after the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity, which we commemorated last Sunday.

We often speak of Holy Days of Obligation. This is one of the ten Holy Days of Obligation in the Latin Rite Church, but here in the United States it is celebrated on Sunday. Sunday, of course, is always a Holy Day of Obligation for us. As stewards of the Church it is vital that we understand our Catholic traditions and practices and are able to explain them.

The emphasis on this Feast Day is Holy Communion, the Eucharist. At Communion we receive the True Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. We are a gifted people, and this is an incredible gift to us. On this day especially we are called to focus on this gift. In Communion we receive gifts that affect us both physically and spiritually. From a spiritual perspective we are united with Christ. Communion should increase our love of God and of our neighbor. This is lived out in the action of stewardship.

Stewardship Reflection on Lectionary Readings: May 31, 2015

May 31, 2015 – The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Dt 4: 32-34, 39-40; Ps 33: 4-6, 9, 18-20, 22; Rom 8: 14-17; Mt 28: 16-20

Icon-Holy-Trinity-1Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. It is worth reviewing what a “Solemnity” is to us. In our Church year a Solemnity is the highest-ranking Holy Day possible, followed by a Feast and then a Memorial. Although we may not perceive it, the word “solemnity” comes from the Latin word for “festival.” The most important events on our Church calendar are “Solemnities.” All Solemnities are not Holy Days of Obligation, but those like Holy Trinity Sunday that always occur on Sunday are indeed Holy Days of Obligation.

The Holy Trinity was firmly established in the Bible, even in Genesis. Throughout the Old Testament God refers to Himself in both the singular and plural. In fact, in Genesis He declares “Let us make man in our image.” Note both the “us” and the “our.” Nevertheless, these semantical supports are secondary to the reality of the Holy Trinity as explicated and explained in our readings for this Holy Day.

St. Athanasius, who lived in the 300s, said “We acknowledge the Trinity, Holy and perfect, to consist of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is a wholly creative and energizing reality, self confident and undivided in its active power. Accordingly, in the Church, one God is preached, one God who is above all things and through all things and in all things.”

Our first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy speaks of our need to serve God. Moses tells the people, “The Lord is God in the heavens above and on the earth below, and there is no other.” This is the preface to our understanding and belief in the Holy Trinity.

In the second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul makes the point that we are all children of God if we are “led by the Spirit of God.” It is the Triune God who leads us through the Holy Spirit to repentance, to truth, to love, to holiness, to stewardship. It is through pursuing this life in the Spirit that we are able to serve God and one another.

The Gospel from Matthew, even though not lengthy, contains Jesus’ complete call to us to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Disciples are made through teaching and through conversion. To be a Christian steward involves a conversion of the heart and mind. As indicated in our U.S. Bishops Pastoral Letter on Stewardship, “Jesus’ call is urgent. He does not tell us to follow Him at some point in the future but here and now, at the moment, in our present circumstances.” The Bishops later say in that letter, “The life of a Christian Steward, lived in imitation of the life of Christ, is challenging, even difficult in many ways. But both here and hereafter it is charged with intense joy.”

On this day when we glory in the Holy Trinity, when we again declare, “I believe,” we need to commit ourselves to our Triune God; we need to answer the call to discipleship and stewardship. We need to be generous out of love. Jesus sends us, guides us, and empowers us.

Stewardship Bulletin Reflection: May 31, 2015

May 31, 2015 – The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Dt 4: 32-34, 39-40; Ps 33: 4-6, 9, 18-20, 22; Rom 8: 14-17; Mt 28: 16-20

holy_trinityToday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity is one of the most fundamental mysteries of our faith. We profess our belief in the Holy Trinity as part of the Nicene Creed, our Profession of Faith, which we join together to say at Mass (The Apostles’ Creed, another form, may be used at Masses where children are in the majority). The word “creed” is drawn from the Latin word credo, which means, “I believe.”

According to some traditions the Apostles composed the Apostles’ Creed on Pentecost Sunday, which we celebrated one week ago. It is a natural progression for us to celebrate this Feast at this time, just after Pentecost and the end of our Easter season. As indicated we consider the Holy Trinity as a Mystery of our faith. A Mystery in this regard means that this is something that goes beyond our ability to genuinely understand it completely.

That and other mysteries of the faith are sometimes a challenge for us as Catholics. If we do not understand nor fully grasp something, we may have a tendency to doubt, to have reservations. One of the joys of stewardship is trusting completely in God, of accepting the fact that we may never have all the answers. Needing all the answers is a human failing. As professed Catholics we need to accept, and we need to follow and commit to the Lord’s call to discipleship.

Stewardship Reflection on Lectionary Readings: May 24, 2015

May 24, 2015 — Pentecost Sunday
Acts 2: 1-11; Ps 104: 1, 24, 29-31, 34; 1 Cor 12: 3B-7, 12-13; Jn 20: 19-22

Pentecost-venisanctespiritusOur Easter season ends on this day, Pentecost Sunday, the 50th day after Easter. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#731) “On that day of Pentecost when the seven weeks of Easter had come to an end, Christ’s Passover is fulfilled in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, manifested, given, and communicated as a divine person: of his fullness, Christ, the Lord pours out the Spirit in abundance. (#732) On that day, the Holy Trinity is fully revealed. Since that day, the Kingdom announced by Christ has been open to those who believe in him… By his coming which never ceases, the Holy Spirit causes the world to enter into the ‘last days,’ the time of the Church, the Kingdom already inherited though not yet consummated.”

These gifts of the Holy Spirit as explained and outlined in today’s readings have come to us as well. From the moment the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles in that upper room the Church began, and it continues in and through us today. At that time Pentecost was an already existent festival, which celebrated “the first fruits of the harvest.” “First fruits” is a term oft used in association with our understanding of stewardship. We are called to share our “first fruits,” our many gifts, before we do anything else with them.

The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles provides details as to how and to whom the Holy Spirit descended. Note that the Apostles “were all in one place together.” This is the same unity to which we are called; this is one of the reasons we gather as a community to pray and to worship. For them to receive the Holy Spirit they had to be open to it, acknowledging their own emptiness. If we are not empty, we cannot be filled. The admission and acceptance of our own emptiness is one of the means by which the Holy Spirit can fill us and make us whole.

St. Paul, in our second reading from his first letter to the Corinthians, explains further the gifts received by us through the Holy Spirit. “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit.” Paul then lists the different ways we may be gifted. In doing that he says “There are different workings, but the same God.” The original Greek word translated as “workings” is energemata. A wordsmith would point out that this is also the root word of “energy” and “energize.” The gifts may be different, but the Giver, and the one Who provides the strength and ability to use those gifts is God Himself, just God. Everything we are; everything we have; everything we are able to do is from the Grace of God. Paul completes his explanation by pointing out that although each of us is different and each of us has different gifts and in different quantities, we are all “one Body” in Christ. This sense of unity is important for us to practice and understand stewardship.

In the Gospel from John Jesus appears to His Apostles and “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’.” This is the same Holy Spirit with which we are to be filled. Just as the Lord empowered those first followers with authority and forgiveness, He does the same for us. Our role, as defined on this Pentecost Sunday, to many “the birthday of the Church,” is, in the words of our U.S. Bishops “to receive God’s gifts gratefully, cultivate them responsibly, share them lovingly in justice with others, and return them with increase to the Lord.” This is what we remember on this Pentecost Sunday, and it is what we must strive to continue.

Stewardship Bulletin Reflection: May 24, 2015

May 24, 2015 — Pentecost Sunday
Acts 2: 1-11; Ps 104: 1, 24, 29-31, 34; 1 Cor 12: 3B-7, 12-13; Jn 20: 19-22

pentecost-iconToday is Pentecost Sunday, a day called by many “The Birthday of the Church.” We commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. Easter is the greatest feast in our Catholic calendar, followed by Christmas. However, Pentecost is one of our most significant feasts after those two celebrations.

Pope Francis has often referred to the magnitude of the Holy Spirit in our lives. In his first homily on Pentecost he said, “Our soul is a kind of sailboat. The Holy Spirit is the wind which fills the sails and drives it forward, and the gusts of wind when it moves more rapidly are the gifts of the Holy Spirit.” Although we celebrate the many gifts that were given by the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and the early followers of Christ, we need to be aware that these are gifts given to us as well.

Stewardship calls us to use these gifts to benefit our Church, our Catholic parishes and communities. Stewardship also reminds us that each of us has received unique gifts, and without our particular gifts, regardless how small they may be, our community is not whole. The key of course is our openness to receiving and using these gifts. To use Pope Francis’ image of the sails, we need to see that if our sails are not up, if we are not open to the Holy Spirit, it cannot fill us. When we accept the Holy Spirit and are filled with it we indeed can be fulfilled.

Stewardship Reflection on Lectionary Readings: May 17, 2015

May 17, 2015 – Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
Acts 1: 1-11; Ps 47: 2-3, 6-9; Eph 1: 17-23; Mk 16: 15-20

ascension-icon-240x300With the exception of five northeastern provinces and the state of Nebraska, the Solemnity of the Ascension has been transferred from Ascension Thursday (the 40th day of Easter) to the Sunday following it. The Ascension of Christ is significant from a number of perspectives. It marks the end of His physical earthly ministry. The Gospels of Luke and Mark and the Acts of the Apostles report it literally, but there are other references to Christ ascending physically into Heaven in the Bible. Today’s Gospel from Mark says that He “was taken up into Heaven.”

This is significant to us in terms of eternal life and the form it may take, but what occurs around the Lord’s Ascension is also important. Jesus tells the Apostles and His followers who witness His Ascension that they will “receive the Holy Spirit.” Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles is the recounting of what occurred at and around Christ’s Ascension. According to most Biblical scholars and theologians Jesus’ Ascension is one of the five major milestones in His earthly life, the others being Baptism, Transfiguration, Crucifixion, and Resurrection. In our Catechism ( #668) it states: “Christ’s Ascension into Heaven signifies His participation, in His humanity, in God’s power and authority.” So what does the Ascension mean to each of us personally?

Most agree that it was St. Luke who wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Thus, when Acts begins, “In the first book…I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up,” it is a reference to the Gospel of Luke. Based upon other references early in Acts, it would appear that the timeframe for the writing is around 60 A.D. Paul is in Rome at that time. The Emperor Nero would begin his persecution of Christians in 64 A.D. Nevertheless, the most important words in this first reading are those which tell us today what we need to be doing to build the Kingdom of God. Jesus tells the Apostles in this reading that they are to return to and stay in Jerusalem until they receive the Holy Spirit, which He has promised. Just as they needed the Holy Spirit to fulfill Christ’s wishes, we do as well. One week from today (May 24) we celebrate and hear about when the Apostles received the Holy Spirit (Pentecost Sunday).

As Catholics we receive the Holy Spirit initially at Baptism. However, the gifts of the Holy Spirit continue to come to us throughout our lives and in various ways. The traditional gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. In this reading Jesus reminds us that we are to use the Holy Spirit to go and teach others the “Good News.” It is a call to evangelization and stewardship.

St. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians confirms the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul speaks of how the “eyes of our hearts might be enlightened.” This is the same enlightenment to which the first reading makes reference through the Holy Spirit. However, it is in the Gospel reading that we gain the full understanding of our calling. Jesus could not have made it more apparent to us as when He says, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel.” As we have noted previously, this is not a suggestion from the Lord, it is a command. The final verses which present that “they went forth and preached everywhere” is our cue to do the same. It is often said that stewardship is measured by what we do, how we live. This direct summons from Christ is for us to live active lives of stewardship which demonstrate to all we know our witness to our belief and our faith.

Stewardship Bulletin Reflection: May 17, 2015

May 17, 2015 – Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord
Acts 1: 1-11; Ps 47: 2-3, 6-9; Eph 1: 17-23; Mk 16: 15-20

ascension“But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the Word with accompanying signs.” With those words St. Mark closes his Gospel — our Gospel reading on this day, the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. This has not changed as we, the followers of Jesus, continue to preach everywhere with the support and presence of the Lord.

We are all called to discipleship, and practicing good stewardship is a great way to be the disciples Jesus expects us to be. Part of our discipleship involves evangelization — that is, living out the Good News, the Word, in all we do. No matter where we are or what we are doing we represent Jesus and we represent the Church. The Ascension was the close of Jesus’ physical ministry on Earth, but it was not the end of His ministry.

That is where His followers and Apostles continued, and where we need to continue today. In his exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis reminds us of this call to evangelization: “Anyone who has experienced God’s saving love does not need much time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.” Stewardship-discipleship-evangelization are calls to action, to continue Christ’s presence on Earth.

Stewardship Reflection on Lectionary Readings: May 10, 2015

May 10, 2015 – Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 10: 25-26, 34-35, 44-48; Ps 98: 1-4; 1 Jn 4: 7-10; Jn 15: 9-17

mary-mother-of-god-iconThe word “love” appears more than 500 times in the Bible. Our readings on this Sixth Sunday of Easter contain the word “love” (or a form of it) 18 times. Clearly this idea of loving is important for us as Christian Catholics, and the Lord makes it eminently obvious that love of one another needs to be at the center of our way of life. Of course, we need to understand that the love spoken of here is not the shallow romantic kind of love with which we are inundated through various forms of communication daily.

The most commonly used Greek word which is translated into the word “love” in Holy Scripture is “agape.” This is not hand in hand love; it is much deeper, requiring much more commitment. Another Greek word for “love” is the word “phileo.” Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles speaks of St. Peter’s meeting with Cornelius and Peter’s expanded thoughts on how we are to respond to the blessing of the Holy Spirit which we have received. In one of his letters (1 Peter), St. Peter uses both the words “phileo” and “agape” in the same sentence, saying “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love [phileo] of the brethren, fervently love [agape] one another from the heart.” 1 Peter 1:22 What makes this notable is that it establishes the relationship and understanding we need for “love” as mentioned in the second reading and the Gospel.

The first reading is another example of Peter’s ongoing effort to explain to us that what Christ has said and what Christ has done is for all, Jews and Gentiles. St. Peter begins his sermon on this occasion by saying, “In truth God shows no partiality.” That word “agape” describes God’s love for us. It is unconditional, sacrificial, and filled with forgiveness. We, too, are expected to love God and one another in the same way.

St. John calls us to love in the second reading from 1 John. In the original Greek John, too, used the word “agape” to clarify the kind of love to which he was referring. This love from God is self-giving without expectation of a return. It is the kind of love God feels for us. Too often we may do something with the expectation of getting something back. To practice stewardship in a pure sense, we need to love the way God loves us. That is central to what John is trying to teach and explain to us. You may have heard the expression “God is love,” which St. John uses in this passage. However, we must accept that love, and we must commit ourselves to loving in the same way. If we do that, God’s love through us can transform not only us but also those around us.

Of course, our Gospel reading from John speaks of the same kind of love (agape). Nevertheless, Jesus adds another proviso to that love for it to be complete and pure. That is obedience. “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love.” The Lord indicated more than once that the “foremost” commandment was to “Love one another.” Jesus refers to the “joy” which comes from keeping that commandment. That “joy” is far above what we might perceive as normal happiness and good feelings. There is something exhilarating about it, something which lifts us up and sustains us. Blessed Mother Teresa said more than once, “A joyful heart is the inevitable result of a heart burning with love.” This is the love we all must strive to achieve. This is the love Jesus means for us.

Stewardship Bulletin Reflection: May 10, 2015

May 10, 2015 – Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 10: 25-26, 34-35, 44-48; Ps 98: 1-4; 1 Jn 4: 7-10; Jn 15: 9-17

mother-of-god_0“This I command you: love one another.” Note that in this direct quote from today’s Gospel that the Lord does not offer this as a suggestion nor as an option. It is a command. He reinforces this several times in Holy Scripture as He offers it as one of the two most important commandments. If we make an effort to genuinely love one another, we will have gone a long way to living out discipleship and stewardship.

It is appropriate on this Sixth Sunday of Easter when we celebrate Mothers’ Day throughout the United States that our readings are filled with the message of love. The love of a mother is one of the great blessings anyone can receive. We should have no difficulty on this day letting our mothers — in fact, all those women who have provided support and forgiveness to us — know that we love them.

If loving one another is one of the hallmarks of stewardship as a way of life, showing that love to our mothers, and for mothers, showing and expressing their love to their children is paramount on this day. As Christ said in today’s Gospel, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s love for one’s friends.” Mothers do that constantly, sacrificing so much for their children. We are blessed; let the “mothers” in our lives know that they are a blessing.

Stewardship Reflection on Lectionary Readings: May 3, 2015

May 3, 2015 – Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 9:26-31; Ps 22: 26-28, 30-32; 1 Jn 3: 18-24; Jn 15: 1-8

christ-vine-2St. John opens his salutation in our second reading from his first letter saying, “Let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and truth.” In many ways that sums up accurately the messages we receive in Holy Scripture on this Fifth Sunday of Easter. Often we hear the adage “Actions speak louder than words.” Truly in terms of stewardship what we do is much more important than what we might say.

Throughout this Easter season many of our first readings are from the Acts of the Apostles, a recounting of the early Church and its development. That early Church would not have survived and thrived without a strong sense of stewardship. Today’s first reading recounts the challenges Saul (St. Paul) had with the disciples in Jerusalem. Paul was not readily accepted, perhaps because they remembered what he had once done in persecuting them, or they were just at a time when trust of others was not high. In any case, note how Barnabas both accepts and introduces Paul to others as one of them. This is a lesson for us in how we treat others. It has a lot to do with the idea of hospitality, which is central to a stewardship parish. Barnabas loves and befriends, just as we are to do.

St. John takes that love explained and demonstrated in the first reading and expands it. St. John’s point is that we cannot just talk about love; we must carry it out with action. This ties in so directly with the first reading in that once we love others, are hospitable, warm and welcoming, we then must take that next step and reach out to others. That is the action element of stewardship — how do we reach out to and serve the poor and those in need. John also offers the transition to our Gospel message. “…we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as He commanded us.” It all ties together. We are called to love through stewardship, but we cannot really have the love we need if we do not seek it through the Lord. Mother Teresa once made reference to a problem in the world in that there were people who more or less loved humanity, but they did not love each person who made up that humanity. When we are called to love one another, it is very specific; we are to love each person individually and directly.

“I am the vine; you are the branches.” With those words in our Gospel from St. John, Jesus emphasizes the importance of our relationship with Him. It is to be more than a relationship; He abides in us and we are to abide in Him. It is a union that must and will produce fruit. You may not be aware that across the front of the Temple in Jerusalem was a carved golden vine. The vine represented the nation of Israel. Jesus often used references to vines and branches and fruits in His teaching. In this Gospel there are some subtle references that require knowledge of growing, nurturing, and harvesting the fruits of the vine. If you have ever seen a vineyard, the vines are often raised up and placed on poles. This allows them to get more sun and to develop more fully and to bear more fruit.

That is part of the message from Jesus in this Gospel. If we will allow Him to lift us up, we, too, will feel His presence more fully; as a result our faith and our actions will develop more fully; and we, too, will bear the fruit to build the Kingdom and to carry out our lives of stewardship more effectively. Thus from the love described in the first reading, to the active type of love to which we are called in the second reading, to the shared love with and of the Lord in the Gospel that allows us to be His disciples, we are more complete, more satisfied.

Stewardship Bulletin Reflection: May 3, 2015

May 3, 2015 – Fifth Sunday of Easter
Acts 9:26-31; Ps 22: 26-28, 30-32; 1 Jn 3: 18-24; Jn 15: 1-8

Christ_the_True_Vine_iconIn today’s Gospel reading, Jesus reminds us how important each and every one of us is when He says, “I am the vine; you are the branches.” One of the central ideas in the spirituality of stewardship is how crucial each person is to the success and effectiveness of the community. Of course, together we can do so much more than each of us can individually.

Are you using your gifts? Are you using your gifts to build the community and to serve others? Jesus speaks of His Father “pruning” the branches that do not bear fruit. As is often the case in ancient Greek, a word can have two meanings. The word for “prune” is also the word for “cleanse.” That is the point the Lord is most likely making. Until we are “cleansed,” until we have sought conversion and change with the help of God, we are not able to fully fulfill our covenants with God.

Stewardship, of course, is a call to each of us to respond to our many gifts with thanksgiving and service. Fruits bear seeds within them. Our response to God’s call is to allow our seeds to produce more fruit. The author Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.” As our Easter season continues, we need to make sure we are attached to the vine of the Lord, and that we are planting seeds.

Stewardship Reflection on Lectionary Readings: April 26, 2015

April 26, 2015 – Fourth Sunday of Easter
Acts 4: 8-12; Ps 118: 1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28-29; 1 Jn 3: 1-2; Jn 10: 11-18

christ_good_shepherd_icon“I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Our Gospel passage on this Fourth Sunday of Easter begins with those words from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is a question of perspective and attitude. Jesus also reminds us that other shepherds may think the flock exists for them, but for Jesus, He lives and dies for the sheep — for us.

As our Easter season continues, we are prompted over and over to keep in mind what the Lord sacrificed for us. Our readings are meant to keep His redemption at the forefront of our thoughts. St. Peter’s words, as he preached in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, echo this central theme. “He (Jesus) is the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the corner stone. There is no salvation through anyone else.” Peter’s message to us is absolutely unambiguous: there is only one way to deliverance and that is by means of the Lord. St. Peter made this speech in a court; he is filled with courage through the Holy Spirit, and what he says is consistent with all his preaching as reported: Peter preaches Jesus, the crucified Jesus. This speech is as much for us as it was for those witnessing it.

In our second reading from the First Letter of John, St. John uses the phrase “children of God.” This is a superlative transitional phrase to the Good Shepherd in the Gospel. This phrase demands a relationship from us beyond what is immediately apparent. It has to do with how we relate to our Father God. However, it also has to do with how we interact with our siblings. Stewardship calls us to more than just loving. It demands that we reach out, that we share, and that we love in action all those with whom we know and meet. As the “children of God” we become the family of God. John closes this passage of his letter saying “…we shall see him (Christ) as he is.” This is the glorious promise made to us. We will not only be with Jesus; we will be like Him. That is the deepest meaning of our salvation, and we need to concentrate on that.

This Sunday is traditionally called Good Shepherd Sunday. Each year, regardless the cycle for the readings, we hear about Jesus, the Good Shepherd. It is interesting to note that the Greek word for “shepherd” was the same word for “pastor.” Jesus is the Good Shepherd, but our lives may well be filled with many “shepherds,” many who will truly sacrifice all for us. That is why in many parts of the world this Sunday also contains a heavy element relating to vocations. Jesus’ love for us as reflected by the image of the Good Shepherd calls us to try to be a shepherd to our friends, our family, all with whom we may come in contact. That, too, is stewardship. Going back to the theme of Resurrection and life Jesus states, “I lay down my life in order to take it up again… I have the power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.”

At the very end of his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says, “Keep back nothing. Nothing you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, everything else thrown in.”

Stewardship Bulletin Reflection: April 26, 2015

April 26, 2015 – Fourth Sunday of Easter
Acts 4: 8-12; Ps 118: 1, 8-9, 21-23, 26, 28-29; 1 Jn 3: 1-2; Jn 10: 11-18

ChristGoodShepherd_PortraitTraditionally, the Fourth Sunday of Easter (today) is also called Good Shepherd Sunday. Christ tells us in today’s Gospel from John, “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me.” The image of Christ as the shepherd is one of the oldest in the Church. Even in the Catacombs there is an ancient drawing of Christ carrying a sheep on his shoulders.

Sometimes it is difficult for us to view ourselves as sheep. There is something passive and reliant in that image which may bother our sense of independence. However, if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we need the Lord’s help and guidance. An essential part of living a stewardship way of life is placing our lives in the hands of our Good Shepherd nonetheless.

Throughout this Easter Season we celebrate that one mystery — that Christ gave His life for us on the Cross. If we accept the fact that He is our Savior and that He is our Shepherd, we are better able to serve as shepherds to one another. Stewardship is a life of giving self, a life of self-giving. We must constantly work to live up to the Lord’s expectations of us, but we also must always know that He is our shepherd, our Good Shepherd, and He is always there for us.